~by Usamaru Furuya
While Lychee Light Club is not the first Usamaru Furuya manga to be made available in English it is the first of his works that I have had the opportunity to read. I became interested in the title when Vertical first licensed it but it was the stunning cover that completely sold me, even before I knew what I was really getting myself into. Lychee Light Club, originally published in Japan in 2006, is based on a 1985 Tokyo Grand Guignol play of the same name. Knowing this origination is enough to expect the story to be of a dramatic, horrifying, sensational, and probably bloody nature. Apparently, and interestingly enough, Furuya's version of Lychee Light Club has been adapted back into a stage play. Furuya has also written a prequel called Our Light Club. I really hope that Vertical, which published Lychee Light Club in 2011, will be able to license the prequel as well.
In an abandoned factory in the run-down industrial town of Keikoh meets a group of nine junior high students from an all boys school who call themselves the Light Club. They gather in secret to build a living machine fueled by lychee fruit to carry out their plan to abduct beautiful girls. The intensely charismatic and terrifying Zera, who holds the most power and control over the group, is obsessed with obtaining the ideal of eternal youth and beauty. The Light Club intends to literally idolize the captured girls. But after Lychee's completion and eventual success, things quickly fall apart as the Light Club is utterly consumed by paranoia and jealousy. Violence erupts as the boys are turned against one another, incited by Zera's increasingly pronounced mania. Lychee, the machine meant to make the Light Club invincible, instead brings about their downfall.
Lychee Light Club is a dark tale and the art is appropriately dark as well with plenty use of black. At the same time, Furuya's artwork is also disconcertingly beautiful and stylish. Even the very graphic depictions of blood and gore, of which there are plenty, are strangely seductive. It certainly isn't something that everyone will be able to appreciate and Furuya is not at all subtle about it. Another interesting approach used in Lychee Light Club's artwork has to do with the panels shown from Lychee's perspective. When the machine is first initialized, it can only see in strict black and white; only after it has been programmed with the concept "I am human" can it begin to perceive different shades of grey. It is a symbolic and significant change that has serious consequences.
Ultimately, I was enthralled by Lychee Light Club in all its disturbing glory. Granted, it's not a manga that I would recommend to just anyone; but for an audience prepared for uninhibited violence with highly sexually charged connotations, I wouldn't hesitate. The theatrical influence of Lychee Light Club is readily clear. For one, almost the entire story takes place in a single room. In addition to this, the staging of various scenes and the characters' placements in them are reminiscent of a stage production. To some extent because of this, the Light Club seems to out of context with the rest of their world. Instead of rebelling against a specific society, it feels as though the boys are struggling with and fighting against vague concepts. The story is admittedly strange and incredibly perverse, but neither does it claim to be anything else. Lychee Light Club is horrifying, and it should be.